Lines of permission

How many times have you heard about some cool project that a teacher you know is trying, and had the thought “Man, I wish I could do something like that with my class!”

I know that there were times that I would have those exact thoughts – sometimes the thing holding me back had to do with resources, sometimes it was fear that I couldn’t pull something like that off with my class, and sometimes it was that I wasn’t sure if it was something that I would actually be allowed to do with my students.

At the beginning of the school year, our Superintendent shared with all the teachers in the district a catchphrase that he wanted to become a phrase we all used to describe learning: “Incubating Awesome!” If we believe that it is our job to create an amazing learning space that leads to awesome opportunities for students to learn and grow, we cannot allow any doubt to get in the way! We have to move forward and do amazing things for our students because it’s what we know is best for kids!

In his book Creative Schools, Ken Robinson shares that “People everywhere have ideas they would like to develop, but they need permission to try them out and see if they work. If they fear failure or humiliation or disapproval, they usually hold back. If they’re encouraged to try their hand, they usually will.” I want this post to be that encouragement for you! Don’t let any of those fears or that thought of needing permission, be the thing that prevents you from incubating awesome in your own classroom!

It is my goal to create a culture where all the people in our school feel empowered to do what they think is necessary to create awesome learning opportunities for the students they work with! Robinson reminds us that culture is about permission. Not so long ago, the NFL was kind of a no holds barred world. True, there were personal fouls and calls for unnecessary roughness, but this year the NFL put into place new rules regarding leading with the helmet. This rule was put into place as an effort to keep players safe, but in the NFL Preseason there was an uproar over some of the penalties that were called. As a former football coach and player, this one is an example of some of the struggles with the new rule:

To me, this looks like a perfectly clean tackle. However, the referees in the game saw it as a player leading with the helmet, and called a penalty. The reality is that the lines of permission in society have been redrawn. We can see this in sports, or in the real world. The things that once were impermissible become common place, while other things that were once the norm become impermissible. Schools are changing too, and that affects our own lines of permission.

The next time you have an idea to try something new and innovative with your class, you may have something that pulls you back and tells you not to do it. Don’t listen! When we take risks as educators, we encourage our students to take their own risks. When we show our students that we’re willing to try something new, we show them that it’s ok to try something new. We teach in so many ways, and sometimes what students learn from us is not as much about the lessons we have planned as it is about the skills we help them develop through our own efforts to model what it means to be a lifelong learner.

And here’s the reality, if you are trying out new and innovative things, there are going to be times that you fail! We have begun to celebrate failure in our society. One thing that I’ve been thinking about though: it’s not the failure that we need to celebrate. It’s the willingness to reflect on that failure and figure out what we can learn and how we can get better that we should be celebrating.

So, knowing that you have permission to go out there and do something new and innovative, what ideas do you have? What ways are you going to incubate awesome in your classroom this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below! I can’t wait to hear about your ideas!

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The North Star of Great Learning

Moving the RockThis summer a group of educators in my school district did a book study of Moving the Rock: Seven Levers WE Can Press to Transform Education by Grant Lichtman. I was not an original member of the book study, but when that group came to an end, they decided they wanted to keep meeting, and that they wanted to grow the group – so, I was invited to become a member. That group is called the Innovation Task Force. Since I felt a bit behind the other members, I decided to read the Moving the Rock. I picked it up and read it in just a couple of days (I could have finished it in a day if I let myself!).

When discussing the first of his seven levers, Lichtman used the phrase the “North Star of Great Learning.” In the book, he suggests that defining that North Star is one of the first ways that we can create the demand for better schools. So, what is our North Star? As a way to help define what that may look like at our school, we spent a portion of our first staff meeting talking about what great learning looks like. We began our meeting with the following image:

Learning
Thanks to Susan Drumm for creating this image.

We asked each teacher to respond with a single word. We then created a word cloud from the ideas that were shared by our staff. This is what we came up with:

Opening Day Word Cloud

I think that’s a pretty impactful list of words to describe what great learning looks like, and it definitely helps us as a building chart the plan for what deeper learning should look like in our building. It seems that if this is what we believe, it should serve as the foundation of the North Star of Great Learning.

BestPracticesModel_HSE21_standalonegraphic_2017_05_24As a district, we also have our Instructional Framework, Called the HSE21 Best Practices for Teaching and Learning (it can be found to the right). As I look at this framework, and compare it to the words that we as a staff selected to define great learning, they seem very well aligned.

I wonder at times though, how often we reflect on what is happening in our classrooms on a daily basis compared to what our beliefs about great learning actually are. Is our practice meeting what we say that we want great learning to look like? I wonder if we were to ask our students about learning in our classrooms what they might say about our daily practices.

I’ve often heard leaders talk about the idea of cognitive dissonance, that idea of being a little bit uncomfortable with what you are doing. Of being ok with others questioning our practice. Of understanding that we are all here to create the best possible learning environment for our students (and sometimes that will not be the easiest path for the adults!). Of understanding that if you are completely comfortable in all you are doing, you probably aren’t growing that much.

During our last meeting as the Innovation Task Force, one of the colleagues in the group shared that instead of thinking about how to prepare our students for when they graduate from high school, maybe a better thing to think about is how do we prepare them for life at 22. When we think about graduating from high school as our end goal for students, we let ourselves off the hook for helping them be ready for what they need to know in those first couple of years AFTER they graduate from high school.

Raise your hand if there were things that you didn’t understand about the world when you graduated high school. I can assure you that my hand is up too! Creating a transformational learning environment will help our students to see that learning is something that can happen anytime and anywhere, not something that is done to them while they are sitting in a classroom.

Just like the mind shift that it takes to transfer our classrooms from the traditional learning environments that most of us grew up in towards transformational learning environments who implement the 4 Cs on a daily basis (Creative Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, and Communication), we have to shift our thinking about what it is that we are truly preparing students for.

The next chance you get, ask your students about the favorite things that they have done in your classroom so far this year, or ask them to tell you what great learning should look like. Reflect on the things they share with you. Create more learning opportunities like that! Then, share their responses in the comments below. I’d love to hear from our students.

Innovation Exchange 2018

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in an awesome professional development experience put on by 2 amazing school districts – Hamilton Southeastern Schools (my home district) and Noblesville Schools. Each day was filled with a morning keynote, followed by tons of choices in concurrent sessions. Anytime I attend something of this nature, I feel it’s successful if I can take at least one idea from each session that I can implement into my practices. As I look at my own notes today, I have so many more ideas than that, but I want to share a few of my key takeaways.

Our opening keynote came from Mark Wagner, President & CEO of EdTech Team. During his keynote he asked us the question “What do you want to learn?” and then challenged us to think about whether or not we were spending time asking our kids this same question. While we have standards to meet, that doesn’t have to be done always based on our expert decisions as the teacher. Wagner argued quite convincingly that learning will be more meaningful for our students if we share with them our goals, what we need them to learn, and then ask them how they want to learn those skills. Wagner encouraged us to think of the changing role of educators, and rather than seeing ourselves as the keepers of knowledge, who then dispense that knowledge to our students, we should start thinking of our role as that of a connector.

Within our own community, there are people who have skills and experiences that are much greater than any of us could ever hope to be able to share with our students. Our job, in part, is to connect our students to the experts they need in order to learn the skills they want to learn.

more than I should

During the second day I had the privilege to listen to Luke Reks, a recent graduate of Noblesville High School. Luke shared with us his experiences in the Innovations class he participated in during his sophomore through senior years of high school. In that time, Luke connected with filmmakers, CEOs, and philanthropists. As part of his learning, he interned on the set of a low budget film starring James Franco and was able to network with Hollywood producers and directors. In a partnership with one of his classmates, Luke is now working to build a school in Africa that will serve youth, bringing them access to learning, and including the Innovations model of learning within its curriculum. Luke reminded me that opportunities are everywhere for our students. As teachers, sometimes we just have to get out of the way of the passions of our learners, and they will take their learning much further than anywhere we can hope to take them.

Also on the second day of the conference, Kerry Gallagher was the keynote speaker. After listening to her keynote, I made it a point to attend one of her concurrent sessions as well. Her keynote was on the effects of technology on our brain, while her concurrent session talked about best practices related to screen time. The information shared in both was based on research from sources that I know and trust – Common Sense Media and the American Association of Pediatrics to name just a couple. There are many people who spend time talking about the bad aspects of screens, and there’s plenty of research and opinion that support the drawbacks of screen time, but as educators, we have to also remember a couple of important things about technology. First, technology is an opportunity that provides our students access to resources, tools, and experts that would never be available to them without the use of technology.  Along with that, Gallagher reminded us that increasingly our students will need to be able to interact with people through the screens in front of them.  Google, Airbnb, Uber, and other transformative companies require their employees to be able to interact with customers through screens.  How are we teaching our students to interact appropriately?

If a student’s first time to interact with a screen is as a preteen using an iPhone with unlimited access to the rest of the world, they won’t have the tools to be able to use that power responsibly. This has me thinking about the importance of digital citizenship lessons for even our earliest learners. As a district that is 1:1 in all grades, kindergarten – 12th grade, we can’t wait until kids are in the middle grades to begin talking about appropriate ways to interact through screens. We can use developmentally appropriate apps to help our students learn those skills beginning at the earliest levels.

Overall, there were so many great takeaways from the 2 days, these are just a few of the highlights for me. Did you attend? What were your main takeaways? Do the thoughts above have you reflecting on your own practices? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Lost at school

Lost at School

I have recently been reading the book Lost at School by Ross Greene and wanted to share some of my thoughts with all of you as I wrap up the book.  For a while now I have wondered if a traditional school discipline system was capable of reaching some of the students that I see who have the most behavioral challenges.  I have been an assistant principal for 6 years now, and one thing has remained consistent throughout those years – on average, about 30% of the referrals that are written for students in our school go to the same 10 to 15 students.  This small group of kids can take up huge chunks of time for teachers in the classroom.  These students also spend huge chunks of time outside of the classroom, which means that they aren’t receiving the access to learning that we want all our students to receive.

One of the main ideas of Greene’s writing is that “kids do well if they can.”  My experiences when I was a classroom teacher would have wanted to tweak that statement a bit and say “kids do well if they want to”, but the problem with that version is most kids know exactly how we want them to behave (just ask them what they did wrong), and most of them even want to behave the right way.  The reason they don’t is not a question of whether or not they want to behave, rather it’s a question of whether or not they have the tools to be able to behave.

If a student in your class is struggling academically, it’s most likely that they are lacking some skill to be able to perform successfully on the tasks that you are asking them to complete.  What do we do when this happens?  We take time to work with the student, we figure out where their gaps in learning are, and we try to reinforce those weaknesses.  It can be time consuming, but it is what we are charged to do.

Behaviorally, students who struggle the most are not acting out in an effort to make things more difficult for us.  They aren’t acting out because they don’t have support at home, and it’s not about the kids that they are around.  What it’s really about is that kids with behavioral challenges lack important thinking skills.  I believe we need to start thinking of these behaviors as something of a developmental delay.

The most important thing to remember

If we begin to think of behavior as a developmental delay, what does this do for our typical methods of handling student discipline?  It definitely has me thinking about things differently.

The facts are that those 10-15 students that I was referencing earlier have received all kinds of different disciplinary actions and interventions throughout their school careers: detentions, in-school suspensions; out-of-school suspensions; conferences with administrators, parents, and teachers; and a variety of other strategies.  Even with all these forms of discipline, many times those students are referred to the office again just a day or week after serving a consequence.  What this tells me is that traditional discipline simply doesn’t work for some of our kids, and if it doesn’t work for some of our kids, is it truly beneficial for any of our kids?

Greene describes the issues that our struggling students have as lagging skills.  Those lagging skills sometimes lead to unsolved problems, which in turn can lead to a behavioral outburst.

As an example, one of the lagging skills that Greene talks about is “Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mindset or task to another.”  We might see this lagging skill manifest as an unsolved problem of having trouble transitioning from recess where we are running around, making noise, and socializing to the classroom where we need to be quiet and sitting in our seat working independently.  When we can identify a lagging skill, and then label an unsolved problem, it becomes much easier to support students in solving this problem.

By shifting to Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS), we might be able to better help our students who struggle most learn coping skills for how to deal with their unsolved problems in more appropriate ways.  While it can take time to work through this process with students, the reality is that those students are already taking lots of our time, and most of the time we are working in a reactive mode where we simply respond to the behaviors after they have occurred.  The CPS process will allow us to have proactive strategies to support our kids.

In next week’s post, I’m going to go a little deeper in the strategies of CPS, and what it looks/sounds like in a classroom setting.

Lost at School has me completely rethinking the way that we look at student discipline.  If you are curious to know more, or like me are feeling that the current student discipline methods are not working for some of our kids, I highly recommend the book as a way to learn more.  Add it to your summer reading list!

I know that there are some of you reading this who have probably read Lost at School as well.  If you have, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Steele - behavior (2)

Developing wonder

I was recently having a conversation with a teacher. We were talking about her efforts to integrate more creative, outside the box style of learning activities in her class. She knows that for future success, her students don’t need to simply be able to regurgitate facts – Google can do that for anyone. It’s about what students can do with that knowledge, and she’s struggling with how to get there. You see, some of her students just don’t seem to be able to “think” in a creative way. They seem to prefer to have an activity with direct questions and correct answers. If given a choice between a creative activity that forces thinking in depth of knowledge level 3 or 4 or a worksheet with depth of knowledge level 1, her students would choose the worksheet.

This teacher however, understands that things that are depth of knowledge level 1 may not be what students ultimately need to be successful in the future.  Check out this short video that will show why:

If you search for Siri, Alexa, or Google Home homework help, you will find videos of students going down their worksheet and asking their “smart speaker” the problems they have to solve, and then copying down the answer. If there are other kids who have figured this out, you can guess that your students have too. Personally, I don’t have any problem with students using the tools around them to help them with their homework – I mean, what do most of us do with a question we don’t immediately know the answer to? But I recently read a quote from Yong Zhao, a Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas gave me pause and made me think about the types of questions we’re asking students:

If all children are asked to master the same knowledge and skills, those whose time costs less will be much more competitive than those with higher costs. There are many more poor and hungry people in the developing world willing to work for a fraction of what workers in developed countries need. To be globally competitive, developed countries must offer something qualitatively different, that is, something that cannot be obtained at a lower cost in developing countries.

In this quote, Zhao was talking about the standardization of curriculum and teaching methods, and the fact that our standardization fails our students in the long term. You see, when our students from a developed country move into the workforce, they will be too expensive for the jobs that take a low level of thinking. The students from developed nations need to be able to do things with their knowledge, and developing those skills can’t be done from DOK 1 questions on a worksheet. WorksheetsIf a student can turn to Google, Siri, Alexa, or whatever smart tool comes out next to find the answer to your question, then maybe we aren’t asking the right questions.

So here’s the challenge for this teacher. She knows that students will get more out of learning opportunities that push into higher level thinking. She knows that activities that require more creativity are inherently more “sticky” when it comes to student learning. But her students are have not been successful in doing this so far this year. Does that mean we give up? My answer would be no – just as with anything else, we have to keep trying.

Compliance-PinkThe students in our school in general are very compliant. Compliant students sometimes struggle with creative tasks because they want specific directions to follow. They may not remember what it feels like to be creative or curious. Years of compliance in the school setting seems to suck creativity and curiosity out of our students. I think that sometimes students lose that ability to be creative and curious because they have grown accustomed to the amount of scaffolding that we provide for learning activities. That scaffolding can begin to feel a bit like a cage, and students forget how to get out.

I’m not sure how many of you have had the opportunity to be around a kindergarten classroom. I get to visit one on occasion because my wife is a kindergarten teacher. When I walk into the room and listen to what’s going on, all the students have questions, and comments, and wonders. All those students feel creative and love to color, draw, paint, write, tell stories, and so much more! When I talk to the fifth and sixth grade students in my own building, many of them have a hard time identifying their own curiosities, their own interests, their own what ifs.

So how do we bring a little bit of that creativity and curiosity back to our students? One suggestion that seems promising is the idea of a Wonder Day. In a recent blog post by John Spencer (you can access it here) he talks about the idea of a Wonder Day where students spend the day immersed in research on something they are curious about, with an end goal of a multimedia presentation – it could be a blog post, podcast, video, or whatever other multimedia format that the students choose.

If you’d like to see a short intro of what a wonder day project might look like, here’s a 2 minute intro from John Spencer.

And if you’re not sure when you’d have the time for something like this, I love the suggestion that I’ve seen elsewhere that one of the best times to try something new and innovative is when the schedule is a little wacky. In my school, next week is the week of ISTEP, our annual state assessment. Because of the test, we run on a different schedule on each of the test days. I would encourage teachers to think about a time like this as the ideal time to try something new. If it doesn’t work for you to try during your testing window, then maybe you try it right before or after an upcoming break, or on the day of a school assembly, or just because it’s a Tuesday!

Our students need to be able to think. They need to identify their curiosity because, as Ken Robinson shares in his book Creative Schools, “Human achievement in every field is driven by people’s desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?” If we have the goal of students who are college and career ready, we have to help them develop that wonder.

Less curious

What do you think? Have you seen similar issues to the teacher above? What’s worked for you to spark that curiosity in your students? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Or, if you decide to try a Wonder Day – or something like it – share you experience with us! We’d love to hear about it!

#OneWord2018 – Who can pick just one?

For those of you in the EduTwitter world, if you were online anytime over winter break, you probably saw a few of the people that you follow posting their One Word for 2018. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter, or may have missed the trend, this is kind of like a New Year’s Resolution in a one word format. On New Year’s Day I had some free time (I mean… All that we were doing was watching bowl games), and I started scrolling through posts with the hashtag (you can still find them here: #OneWord2018). There were so many great ideas. I decided to spend some time thinking about what my one word would be.

I started jotting down ideas over the course of the afternoon in my notes app. As I added ideas, I would remove things that were similar, or take away the ones that didn’t seem as strong to me. Even with that effort, I wasn’t able to cut down to just one. Today I’m going to share with you my top 4 – that’s the best I could do. As the people who I spend my time with, I hope you will help hold me accountable to these words and the idea behind them. If you notice that I’m not sticking to one of them (or more), call me out! I need your help!

  • be-presentPresent – For 2 years I have had an index card pinned to the wall next to my desk that says Be Present! This serves as a reminder to me of what my true purpose is. The role of assistant principal can pull me in a lot of different directions, but many of the things I have to do can be done outside of normal school hours. But my opportunity to connect with kids, to see the amazing teaching that happens in our classroom, and to witness the learning that takes place can only happen during the school day. This year I’m re-upping my goal to be present with students and teachers during the school day.
  • Relentless – I have to admit this, I’m stealing this one from one of my recent Twitter follows – Hamish Brewer – who calls himself the relentless principal. He uses the word constantly as his reminder of his goals for the future success of his students. That’s a philosophy that I can get behind! This year I vow to be relentless in the quest for what’s best for every one of our students. To me, that’s one big goal!DOXXBzjVAAAbtVw
  • Growth – This is a reminder to myself that I don’t know it all. I still have things to learn, and people to learn from. This year I am challenging myself to continue to 84271-Alan-Cohen-Quote-Personal-growth-is-not-a-matter-of-learning-newseek opportunities to learn and grow. This summer I will be attending ISTE for the first time, and I’m pumped about that. It’s also my goal to work on getting rid of some of the books in my to read pile (not by tossing them, but by reading and learning from them). Hopefully this year can continue to be one of growth for me!
  • DSeMdNnXUAE23UlUncomfortable – This year is my sixth as an assistant principal. I have gotten to the point that I feel pretty comfortable in the tasks I need to complete in this role. With that level of comfort, it’s time to push myself to try some new things. I have heard the phrase cognitive dissonance to describe that point where we are stepping out of our comfort zone. Being a little bit uncomfortable is where learning and growth take place. I’m trying to step outside of my comfort zone a little more this year!

So, there they are, my #FourWords2018. Hold me to them. If you see me doing something that doesn’t square with one of my words, help hold me accountable. And now, I’m going to challenge you – take some time to think about your word for this year. Don’t worry, I won’t judge you if you can’t come up with just one. Share your word in the comment section below.

Also, as I was looking at the #OneWord2018 hashtag on Twitter this week, I noticed a few teachers sharing ways that they had incorporated this as a classroom activity with their students.  I know that some of you have already begun some goal setting activities with your classroom, but a one word activity could be pretty cool. One teacher even shared the HyperDoc he created for a OneWord activity that he’s doing in his class. Check it out, maybe you could use what he created, or adapt it to meet the needs of your students.

College and career ready

Think back to the beginning of your college career.  What did innovation look like for you?  What did technology look like for you?  What did learning look like for you?

I know what it looked like for me:

 

 

I’m sure that each of us could come up with a different description of what learning and innovation looked like at the beginning of our college career.  Then I think back to my 5th and 6th grade years.  The first time I remember using a computer was as a 6th grader.  Our school put in a computer lab that year as part of a remodel.  The only thing that we did with the computer was learn keyboarding skills (as far as my teacher was concerned, the computer was just a fancy typewriter).

Now let’s think about what innovation might look for our students after they graduate from college.  For those of you who work with kids who haven’t even hit junior high yet (like me), it’s kind of hard to imagine, right?  The sixth graders in my school will graduate from high school in 2024, and our fifth graders will graduate in 2025.  We could make predictions today about what specific skills our kids may need when they graduate, but knowing how much things changed between the time I was in 6th grade and when I graduated from college, and knowing that technology is accelerating at a pace much faster than it did during my formative years in the 80s and 90s, there is no way for us to be sure what specific skills our kids will need in terms of innovation and technology.

And yet, there’s always that idea that we need to “prepare our students for a successful future.”  Isn’t that what most teachers would agree is our goal?  So how do we do that when we don’t know exactly what our kids need to know?

Edutopia is one of my favorite social media follows, and this is what popped up in my Instagram feed the other night:

What strikes you as you look at that graph of job growth?  Look at the growth in the need for analytical skills and social skills, while there is a massive fall off in the need for an ability to complete repetitive tasks.  What are you doing in your class to explicitly teach social and emotional learning to your students?

Daily Quotes

Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a family, and the teacher of the student leaned over and said to the student “When you’re here, I’m worried about expanding your heart … and your brain.”  I loved how this teacher put the heart first, and how there was a pause before the brain!  In a world where the answer to almost any question can be found by looking on Google or YouTube, college and career readiness isn’t going to be defined by how many factual questions your students can answer.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to be empathetic towards others.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to see problems in our world, and collaborate with peers to find solutions.

I’ve recently been reading the book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, and there was a quote that stood out to me:

Our communities depend on an enormous diversity of talents, roles, and occupations. The work of electricians, builders, plumbers, chefs, paramedics, mechanics, engineers, security staff,

Let us all remember that our students’ futures don’t necessarily rely on their ability to recite their math facts, to memorize 20 vocab words in this unit, to be able to identify all 50 states and capitals, or be able to list the names of the planet in order from the sun to the end of the solar system.  All of those things can be answered now, in most living rooms, by asking Siri, Alexa, or Google.  Also remember that academia may not be the path for every student who steps into your classroom.

There is such a diverse range of needs for the future that I believe the best thing we can do is to focus on those so called soft skills.  Take the time to model what collaborative skills actually look like.  Use a fish bowl activity where some students model while others observe, then have students both on the inside and the outside of the fish bowl discuss what went well and reflect on areas that they need to continue to grow.  If needed, as the teacher you should give them the feedback that they need to be successful the next time they are working collaboratively.

Help your students learn how to use technology to accelerate their learning.  It’s not just for consumption, but also for creation.  Allow them to notice real world problems, and then help them to figure out ways to solve the problems they notice.  Keep working with them on their communication skills – both written and spoken.  Find ways to encourage every student not only to speak, but to lead in the classroom.

As the Friedman quote above reminds us, we are preparing our students for an unknown future.  The constants for our kids will be collaboration, technology, problem-solving, communication, and the ability to be a leader.  As you plan your lessons, focus on those skills.  If you empower your students in all those areas, they will be ready for whatever the future holds.